Stem cell clinic used by some western Coloradans closed by Costa Rican officials
A Costa Rica clinic offering stem cell treatments that have helped some western Colorado residents and thousands of other people has been shut down by the country’s health ministry.
The Institute of Cellular Medicine based in San Jose was ordered closed last month after the country’s officials declared there is no evidence that the stem cell treatments are safe or that they work.
Fruita resident Jordanne Menzies, 25, was two weeks from a scheduled trip to the clinic in mid-May when she was told that the clinic was shut down.
Menzies, who became a quadriplegic as the result of injures suffered in a car accident seven years ago, had already received one treatment at the clinic using stem cells taken from an umbilical cord donated by a mother after a live birth, she said. She was returning in May for a second treatment.
After investing even more money and changing their airline tickets, Menzies and her family rescheduled their trip to Panama City, Panama, at a sister clinic called the Stem Cell Institute.
“We were not going to let this stop us in our tracks,” said Deb Menzies, Jordanne’s stepmother. “We just had to look at it positively and said, ‘Great, we’ll see another country.’ “
Stem cell treatments are not approved by the Federal Drug Administration and are not conducted in the United States. However, a number of other countries have been building medical clinics and medical tourism businesses to handle patients eager for relief from a variety of diseases and conditions. With Costa Rica closing doors on stem cell treatments, Panama City may now have the nearest clinic offering stem cell treatments for most North Americans.
Stem cell injections have been used to treat various conditions, including multiple sclerosis and the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease. It also has been used to help those who are paralyzed to regain movement. Some anecdotal reports indicate people with continued treatments have been able to walk again or have seen a stall the symptoms of debilitating diseases. Other recipients report not receiving any help from the treatments.
After her first treatment in Costa Rica several years ago, her body’s core temperature increased, Menzies said. After the second treatment in May, she felt tingling sensations in her hands and feet. Benefits can be realized up to six months after the procedure and Menzies hopes to see more progress.
Menzies also credits constant therapy for her improvements. In the first four years after her accident she did not engage in therapy after being advised not to.
“You can’t just get the stem cells and sit around and think it’s going to happen,” she said. “I talked to one person who had four different stem cell treatments 19 years ago and now can walk with braces. When I see that, that’s what keeps me going.”
Mary Posta, 59, of Ridgway received stem cell treatments at the Costa Rica clinic in March. Posta was injected with her own stem cells. The Costa Rica clinic continues to store patients’ stem cells on site, although it can no longer provide treatments.
Posta, who has secondary progressive multiple sclerosis, said she was better able to walk and talk after the treatments. She credits increases of physical mobility to the intensive physical therapy sessions included in the treatments. Her memory and ability to recall words also increased.
Posta doesn’t think she will continue with stem cell treatments. Having the treatments is a personal decision and she was never promised a cure, she said.
“It works for some people. For me and some others, it was worth every penny,” she said.
Posta said she feels for the citizens of Costa Rica who make a living off medical tourists. With the help of donations, Posta raised $30,000 for her treatments, which included all accommodations. Six family members went with her, and on weekends, they all traveled to see the sights in Costa Rica.
“We brought in a lot of money for their country,” she said. “If they close it down, it will kind of put them backwards. It was doing good financially. Now the whole country is going to suffer.”